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The US Department of Energy has announced progress on nuclear fusion

The US Department of Energy has announced progress on nuclear fusion

(CNN) — US Energy Department officials on Tuesday announced a historic breakthrough in nuclear fusion: For the first time, US scientists produced more energy through fusion than the laser energy used to power the experiment.

Nuclear fusion is a man-made process that replicates the same energy that powers the Sun. On the other hand, the so-called “net energy gain” is a major milestone in the decades-long effort to obtain unlimited clean energy from nuclear fusion, the reaction that occurs when two or more atoms fuse together.

The experiment had an energy input of 2.05 megajoules and resulted in a fusion energy output of 3.15 MJ, producing 50% more energy than was used. This is the first time an experiment has produced a significant energy gain.

“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California.

The magic is the target chamber at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California: temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to press the target to densities up to 100 times that of lead.  (Damien Jamieson/LLNL)

The magic is the target chamber at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California: temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to press the target to densities up to 100 times that of lead. (Damien Jamieson/LLNL)

Scientists around the world have been studying nuclear fusion for decades, hoping to recreate it with a new source of unlimited, carbon-free energy without the nuclear waste produced by today’s nuclear reactors. Fusion programs mainly use the elements deuterium and tritium, both of which are isotopes of hydrogen.

The breakthrough was made by a team of scientists at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California on December 5. It is a stadium-sized facility equipped with 192 lasers.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called the breakthrough a “historic achievement” in a statement.

In the speech, scientists at Livermore and other national laboratories “will help America solve some of humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, such as providing clean energy to combat climate change and maintaining nuclear deterrence without nuclear testing,” Granholm said.

Livermore Principal Dr. Kim Puddle called scientists’ efforts to make fusion ignition in the lab “one of the most important scientific challenges humanity has ever faced” and praised the work of his lab scientists.

“Achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering and, above all, people,” Puddle said in a statement. “Crossing this threshold has driven 60 years of dedicated research. These are the problems for which America’s national laboratories are built.

And he added, “There are still ‘significant hurdles’ to overcome with nuclear fusion technology before commercialization is possible.”

Aarti Prabhakar during a press conference on Tuesday on the scientific progress in nuclear fusion.  (US Department of Energy)

Aarti Prabhakar during a press conference on Tuesday on the scientific progress in nuclear fusion. (US Department of Energy)

Aarti Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science adviser to President Joe Biden, called the nuclear fusion breakthrough announced on Tuesday a “scientific milestone” and an “engineering marvel.”

As a 19-year-old student, Prabhakar talked about working for three months on a nuclear fusion project at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. “They never lost sight of this goal,” he added.

Jill Hruby, deputy secretary of the National Nuclear Security and Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), said that “in the future,” the mission will see more “advances” and “setbacks.”

Hruby added that his work focuses on “advancing national security” while “pushing toward a clean energy future.”

Tuesday’s “unprecedented” announcement confirms what he and others have been saying for decades, namely that there is no “more dedicated or talented team of scientists” at work today.

This news is in development.

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